New Taliban Leader: Mullah Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada

Executive Summary

Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada is the emir (leader) of the Taliban, successor to Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour. Akhundzada’s appointment to the position was announced by the Taliban’s senior leadership on May 25, 2016, following the death of Mansour in a U.S. drone strike in southwestern Pakistan on May 21, 2016.

Before rising to the position of emir, Akhundzada had served as a deputy leader to Mullah Mansour. He was considered a key cleric and spiritual guide within the Taliban, but reportedly lacks any military experience.

During the Taliban’s control of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, Akhundzada served as a top judge in the Taliban’s sharia court system, both in Kandahar and in the supreme court in Kabul.

Following the Taliban’s fall from power, Akhundzada reportedly served as the Taliban’s Chief Justice. Little else is publicly known about Akhunzada, other than that he was born in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province and comes from the Noorzai tribe. According to sources from within the Taliban, Akhundzada is well-educated, well-liked, and may be amenable to entering into peace negotiations with the Afghan government. Akhundzada is believed to have been responsible for negotiating the Taliban’s temporary ceasefire with the Afghan government in early 2016.Akhundzada’s relative anonymity has reportedly served as a factor in the Taliban’s decision to elevate him. Previously, many had assumed that more well-known figures, like Haqqani network leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, would succeed Mullah Mansour. Akhundzada, on the other hand, may have been seen by the Taliban leadership as a significantly less public and controversial choice than Haqqani, both major assets as the group seeks to shield its leadership from detection by authorities, as well as retain control over its internal factions.

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